Goodbye Beja, Hello Madrid

It was raining when I boarded the bus in Beja for the two and a half ride to Lisbon. The weather matched my mood–I was sad to leave all the new friends I’d made in Beja: the wonderful students I’d gotten to know during our two weeks together, the great “Team of Ten” Volunteers, our fantastic team leader. There were lots and lots of goodbye hugs.

Note to future visitors to Portugal–it costs only 14 Euros for a bus ride from Lisbon to Beja, on a super comfortable bus with free Wi-Fi. If you are visiting Lisbon, why not spend a night or two in Beja? Escape the traffic and crowds, enjoy the history, archaeology and cultural treasure of this intriguing Alentejo town.

Two cab rides and a flight later, I was in Madrid, reunited with my main man.

Here’s where we will be traveling over the next two weeks. First stop is Madrid. ( I lifted the map off the Grand Circle website. THEY are the ones that cut Madrid a little too closely.) The star is my feeble attempt to show the approximate location of Beja. You now have a rough idea of where this “don’t miss” town is located. Okay, so I would never be a successful map maker, but I give myself an A for effort.

The long, unusually dry period Portugal and Spain had been going through ended during our second week in Beja. The rain is expected to continue during most of our remaining trip. Oh well. They need the water, so the rain is a blessing. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

We spent the morning of our first full day in Madrid on a bus tour around the city. First stop, the Egyptian temple of Denbod. No, this was not stolen during a military campaign. Had it not been moved, stone by stone, when the Aswan Dam was created, it would have been under water, just like the Temple of Dendur, in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.


Next stop– the royal palace, where we arrived just in time for the changing of the guard.

Juanjo, our guide, had warned us to be on the lookout for pick pockets. He explained they usually look like tourists, holding maps or cameras with one hand and reaching into your backpack with the other. Well, Linda, a member of our group, saw one doing just that, to a Chinese tourist. She was close enough to slap the pick pocket’s hand away.

A lot of good those guards were! A sharp eyed American woman with quick reflexes foiled the thief. Did I witness any of the excitement? No, I was my usual oblivious self.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to wander through any of the 2,800 rooms in this Versailles inspired palace. Instead, we decided to spend the afternoon in the Prado Museum, ogling the artwork by Goya, el Greco, Rubens and others.

Small part of the royal palace

My only regret: I wish I had researched the Prado more thoroughly, so I could have focused on certain pieces, and figured out the most efficient way to get to them. Talk about sensory overload! No photos were allowed inside the museum. I just have to be content with the images inside my head.

Although we could have spent our second day exploring more of Madrid, we chose the optional guided tour to El Escorial. This palace/ monastery/ school/ church was constructed by King Francis II, son of Charles V, one of the Holy Roman Emperors. The Escorial is shaped like a grill (yes, as in George Forman) to honor Spain’s own St. Lawrence. Why a grill, you ask? Well, that is how he met his end, by being roasted to death. (Yes, humans are strange and savage creatures)

I didn’t use a drone. I bought a postcard and photographed it.

Philip II had the building designed  so that he could lay in his bed and see the altar in the cathedral.  All he had to do was open his bedroom door and he was in church. Because his bedroom was off to the side, the rest of the congregation couldn’t see HIM in his pajamas (or whatever Kings wore back then).

Philip’s chamber, including the bed he died in, and his chamber pot, were all part of the tour, in case you’re wondering, as is a huge painting of St. Lawrence on the griddle.

We also visited the Valley of the Fallen, a memorial to those who died during the Spanish Civil War. This was a truly impressive and very moving site.

The memorial consists of the largest cross in the world, under which a Basilica has been carved — out of the hillside.  It is hard to gauge the size of the memorial from this photo, but to give you an idea, the cross alone is 500 feet high.

The bones of around 40,000 people are buried In the basilica.  One more example of man’s inhumanity to man.

Time to move on, to Toledo and Granada, even though there was much more to see and do in the beautiful city of Madrid.

Beja, Week One

Our first week in Beja has concluded, and what a wonderful week it was!

I’ve been asked many times about the kind of person who does a Global Volunteer project, so here’s a brief description of the 10 fantastic people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working, complete with a visual.

Cisco (front row) is the first Australian Global Volunteer I’ve ever encountered. (He could possibly be the first Australian in Global Volunteer’s history). We all LOVE this extremely creative and talented guy. A graphic art designer by training, he has done so many other things, it is hard to believe he is only 31 years old. I suspect his Beja students are most impressed by his disc jockey experience, but I love hearing about the awards he won while working on a Disney cruise ship. He is “bloody ripper”. (Yes, Cisco is teaching me to speak Aussie).

Also in the front row is our fearless leader, Joe. It feels like EVERYBODY in Beja knows Joe. Coming here for ten years, leading two teams per year (February and September), Joe knows all of the assignments, and has done an amazing job matching us up so everyone is happy.

Joe has sampled just about every eating establishment in the area, so we are enjoying a wide variety of delicious cuisines.

Weekends are usually free time, however Joe very graciously organized a guided tour of Beja on Saturday morning, followed by an excursion to the Serpa cheese festival in the afternoon. Sunday we spent the day visiting the historic town of Evora.

My dear friend Jeanne is in row 2. Jeanne has decades of middle school experience, so she was paired with Heidi ( back row), who is a first time volunteer. Any trip with Jeanne is guaranteed to be fun. Her positive outlook on life is the gift that keeps on giving.

Next to Jeanne is Cindy, from Connecticut. She is a retired Spanish teacher, who has spent last week working in a variety of schools with Dale (last row, Heidi’s husband). Cindy has done a number of GV trips, and is returning to Queretaro, Mexico this October. For those of you who wonder if you could volunteer as a single woman, Cindy is your role model.

Laurie is between Cindy and me. Jeanne, Laurie and I all met Continue reading

The Science Experiment Continues

In my last post, I blogged about jamming a month’s worth of apparel into my carry on. But can I do better? What about just a backpack? What about just a backpack that was initially intended to accompany a carry on? Well, we shall find out, because Lufthansa lost my luggage. How could that be, you wonder? Isn’t the point of a carry on that you carry it on to the plane so that it is always close to you? Wonder no more, because I’m going to tell you.

When I learned that my connecting flight had been changed because of snow in Frankfurt, I envisioned several inches of wet slush. Jetways are not guaranteed in Frankfort. Sometimes you have to walk from the plane down steep metal stairs, to a bus that drives you to a door where you find yet more stairs, and if you are lucky, a working escalator. Carrying 26 pounds, plus backpack, through all that was not an appealing prospect. So, I checked said bag. But only to Frankfort. I’m no fool. What if the snow was so bad I was stuck overnight in Frankfort? I’d definitely want my jammies.

I was feeling pretty good about my decision as I walked down the stairs and onto the bus (yep, no jetway– but not much snow), but those feelings quickly evaporated as I watched bag after bag arrive. None of them being mine. How could you lose a bag that got on a plane in Newark, that landed in Frankfort? The list of life’s mysteries just got one item longer.

Here’s what immediately went through my jet lagged mind:

  • good thing I bought travel insurance
  • For once in my life, I have a complete record of everything my bag contained. Who knew blogging could be so very helpful?
  • Everything that is not easily replaced is in my backpack: my iPad, iPhone, chargers, camera, passport, money and charge cards
  • I’m so glad I only checked the bag through to Frankfort, because when Lufthansa changed my flight they put me on TAP Portugal. Can you imagine what a nightmare it might have been trying to figure out which airline was responsible for losing my bag? I know Lufthansa is responsible, and more importantly, so do they.
  • Let’s see how I do with this challenge. I only have the clothes that I am wearing and no toiletries. Snacks and a flight pillow aren’t all that helpful now, but the Motrin may come in handy.
  • Will my Amazon Prime work for deliveries in Portugal?

The line for customer service at Lufthansa was surprisingly short. When I asked the rep about the probability my bag would be found the same day, she said it was slim. So, since I was only going to be in Lisbon one night, I gave her the address of my hotel in Beja. She said they would call and email me with updates.

So what little pearls of wisdom can I share from my science experiment?

  • Lisbon has amazing malls, and the staff there actually HELP you, which was important in figuring out my size. I didn’t have the time or the energy to try things on. In Italy, I was saddened to learn only “molto grosso” fit; in Argentina, it was “muy grande”. In Lisbon, I was “medium”.
  • I didn’t need to know Portuguese to translate this sign. Bet you can figure it out too.
  • I CAN get by with one change of underwear, just not THIS one…
  • A tee shirt is still great for sleeping, just like in college
  • Next time, put an adapter in my backpack. Luckily, the mail had an electronics shop, but you can’t always count on that, plus they aren’t cheap – €20 or about $25 for a basic model.
  • My toiletry essentials are toothpaste (the hotel gave me a tiny tube but it tasted terrible), deodorant, a comb and brush
  • Shampoo works fine as laundry detergent
  • Although my underwear was perfectly dry by morning, my shirt was not. Wrapping it in a towel did NOT work. I tried the hair dryer, but it kept switching off after a few minutes. The front desk explained it was a “safety feature” to keep it from overheating. Good thing I kept the plastic bag from my shopping extravaganza for my damp shirt.
  • Not all hotels supply conditioner. It is wise to read labels so you don’t put body lotion in your hair
  • Conditioner DOES make a difference
  • In the future, avoid Frankfort airport. The gate for my flight to Lisbon changed THREE times.
  • Losing luggage caused my adrenaline to kick in. I was able to go without sleep for over 40 hours, then wake up completely jet lag free. Despite that happy side effect, I do NOT recommend you voluntarily replicate this experiment.

Bet you’re perched on the edge of your recliner, wondering how this saga ends? How long will our heroine have to wear the same corduroy pants and Keen sandals with socks? Are her air-cooled, memory foam Sketchers gone forever?

The good news? I got an email Saturday at 6 PM telling me the bag had arrived in Lisbon. The bad news? There was no way for me to get in touch with the courier to tell them to bring it to my Lisbon hotel. No phone number, no email address. The courier promised that EVENTUALLY it will make its way to Beja. I figure I can last a couple more days with what I have.


It’s ALL good. My bag arrived in Beja before I did. Not only that, but it was waiting for me in my room, so I didn’t have to carry it up a flight of stairs in this elevator deprived hotel.

Lufthansa has not mentioned any compensation for delayed baggage, however I have saved my receipts, and so far, they owe me €99.90, or about $125. Travel Insurance would cover up to $100, but I’m going to call Lufthansa customer service to inquire where I should send my receipts and how long before I’m reimbursed.